Cohen bombshell sparks fresh calls for Trump impeachment – but what happened to Russia collusion?
The conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on tax and bank fraud charges, coupled with news that the president’s former attorney Cohen, pleaded guilty to a range of charges on the same day, sent social media and news outlets into a frenzy, with many calling for – or speculating about – Trump’s removal from office.
But the latest calls for impeachment were not sparked by evidence provided by Manafort or Cohen pointing to Trump’s collusion with Moscow. Instead, Cohen’s testimony that then-candidate Trump ordered him to pay off two women ahead of the 2016 presidential election, in violation of campaign finance laws, is now seen as the smoking (but not very Russian) gun.
The media immediately seized on the revelation, with Politico reporting that Cohen’s accusations have “fuelled impeachment fears” in the White House and could embolden Robert Mueller’s probe – “even if they are unrelated to allegations of collusion with Russia.”
Democratic lawmakers have also spoken out about Tuesday’s court rulings. Congressman David Price said that it would be wrong to rule out the possibility of impeaching the president if the Democrats win a majority in Congress after the midterm elections. “I expect that we will confront [impeachment]. At a minimum, we’re going to confront the need to investigate a great many things.”
Senator Ron Wyden insisted that Cohen’s crimes could be traced back to Donald Trump, and any attempt by the president to pardon his former associates would “constitute high crimes and misdemeanors” – the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment.
Michael Cohen's crimes go right to @realDonaldTrump. These crimes helped Trump win the election. Any effort to pardon Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort in and of itself would be a gross assault on the rule of law, and constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) August 21, 2018
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, tweeted out on Tuesday that the guilty verdicts against Manafort and guilty plea by Cohen “are further evidence of the rampant #CultureOfCorruption & criminality at the heart of Trump’s inner circle.” However, the California congresswoman stopped short of calling for impeachment.
Today’s guilty verdicts against Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort & guilty plea by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, are further evidence of the rampant #CultureOfCorruption & criminality at the heart of Trump’s inner circle.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) August 21, 2018
But even if the Democratic leadership have not committed to impeachment proceedings – there’s a worry that promises of impeachment could galvanize Trump’s Republican base and give them a reason to show up at the polls for November’s midterm elections – activists and commentators passed around the #ImpeachTrump hashtag on Twitter.
We have a constitutional crisis. Trump is an existential threat.Every now and again -- Helsinki, Charlottesville, Comey firing, migrant kidnapping -- officials seem to finally grasp this.Today is such a day. But it was always true, and will remain true -- unless @GOP impeach.— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) August 22, 2018
Trump should be impeached, retweet if you agree. @Funder spoke to constitutional lawyer Ron Fein, and he laid out the case for Trump’s impeachment. Listen to a new episode of the #DworkinReport podcast below. #ImpeachTrumphttps://t.co/caIpbwQ536— Democratic Coalition (@TheDemCoalition) August 22, 2018
But somehow, the ‘Russia collusion’ narrative which launched Robert Mueller’s investigation and could end up putting two ex-Trump associates behind bars, has all-but-evaporated amid #Resistance jubilation over Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea.
And as the Washington Post noted in a rather sobering legal analysis about the likelihood of impeachment, Mueller “determined months ago that allegations of campaign finance violations involving payments to women before the presidential election were outside the scope of his mandate to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s operation to influence the vote.”
And impeachment may be harder than it sounds – even if it turns out that Trump did direct his personal attorney to violate campaign finance laws. #Resistors would likely have to wait until Trump is no longer in office before attempting to throw the book at him, since “under long-standing legal interpretations by the Justice Department, the president cannot be charged with a crime.”
“The department produced legal analyses in 1973 and 2000 concluding that the Constitution does not allow for the criminal indictment of a sitting president,” the Washington Post wrote. “Those opinions have never been tested in court, and doing so would require a prosecutor to buck the department’s guidance and attempt to bring charges anyway.”
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